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Hopkins Report Calls for Tighter Gun Laws, Sparks Debate

A new report from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research recommends tightening gun control policies to save lives, but the ensuing debate and fierce criticism from gun rights advocates may well leave the research out of the national spotlight during the election season.

According to a report from News Medical last week, in the 100 days following the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., an estimated 3,035 Americans have died as a result of gun violence, meeting the national average of 30 lives per day.

The Johns Hopkins report – a synthesis of prior research and analysis conducted at the Center – includes the following findings, News Medical writes:

  • ·         Easy access to firearms with large-capacity magazines facilitates higher casualties in mass shootings.
  • ·         “Right-to-Carry” gun laws do not reduce violent crime.
  • ·         Prohibiting high-risk groups from having guns – i.e. criminals, perpetrators of domestic violence, youths under age 21, substance abusers and those with severe mental illnesses – and closing loopholes that enable them to have guns are integral and politically feasible steps to reduce gun violence.

According to the report, News Medical writes, guns were used to kill more than 31,000 people in 2010, including more than 11,000 homicides, making the U.S. homicide rate seven times higher than the average of all other high-income countries because U.S. firearm homicide rates are 22 times higher. A 2012 study examined the direct and indirect costs of violent crime in the U.S. and found that the annual cost of those crimes average more than $1,300 for every adult and child, the article says.

The report’s authors point to numerous weaknesses in current U.S. gun laws, which make it harder to keep guns from high-risk individuals. Specifically noted is the age group of 18-20 years. Compared to other age groups, homicide rates are highest among 18- to 20-year-olds, according to an article from The Baltimore Sun.

In the Sun article, Center director and the report’s lead author Daniel W. Webster says that, “We do not allow that group to legally drink beer, but in 45 of 50 state, that group can legally own a handgun.”

The report is also arguing for extending prohibitions already in effect against those convicted of crimes, as well as recommending regulating gun designs to make them safer and less likely to be used in a crime or shooting spree by, for instance, limiting ammunition capability to 10 rounds, the Sun reports.

According to the News Medical article, the report identifies several federal law that have been enacted to protect licensed gun sellers from oversight and reduce sanctions for law violations, and a key loophole that exempts gun purchasers from background checks if they buy guns from private sellers. The report also cites studies which found that fixing lax gun laws reduces gun violence and associated costs – wherein fewer guns are diverted to criminals and there is less violence, News Medical  reports.

However, not everyone is supportive of additional gun control legislation.

According to an article from CBS Baltimore, many gun rights advocates are dismissing the study, arguing identifying dangerous criminals and keeping them locked away should be the priority, not tightening gun laws.

“Essentially, what we are looking at is the same recycled tired arguments over and over again,” says Patrick Schomo of the voluntary gun rights advocacy group Maryland Shall Issue, in the CBS article. “Inanimate objects do not cause violent behavior. Violent people cause violent behavior. And what Bloomberg and Johns Hopkins and Brady and all these gun control organizations are trying to do is literally restrict a fundamental civil right.”

In the Baltimore Sun article, John H. Josselyn, legislative vice president for the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore, rejected the report’s conclusions and contended that other studies show that gun controls do nothing to prevent violence or keep firearms away from criminals. The article says that Josselyn references a 1991 Hopkins paper that found no clear difference between homicide rates in the U.S. and Canada in the later 1970s, even though Americans owned far more handguns then.

“Attempting to control criminal behavior through additional gun laws is the rough equivalent of trying to control drunk driving by making it more difficult for sober people to purchase a car,” he says in the article.

However, most polls show that Americans are evenly split on whether there is a need for stricter gun control or not.

According to the Baltimore Sun, some polls have tracked waning public support for stricter gun laws, but Webster says that other surveys show that many gun owners would favor certain reforms, such as requiring background checks on all gun transactions – including those between individuals, which are not mandatory in some states. A survey by Republican pollster Frank Luntz found 82 percent of gun owners and 74 percent of NRA members favored universal background checks.

“What we’re trying to do with this report is show that there are several important reforms that need to be made, that evidence suggests would save lives and that wouldn’t take any guns away from any law-abiding adult,” says Webster in the Sun article.

However, Webster does acknowledge that his report is unlikely to gain much traction in this election season. 

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